4 Steps to Supporting Good Digestion

Digestion

Most of the time, we take our digestive system for granted. But when it goes out of whack, it’s a different story, and digestive issues can quickly become all-encompassing. Stomach pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, frequent bowel movements, constipation, even night sweats and unexplained weight loss or gain are some signs of poor digestive health that people regularly live with. Unfortunately, we may start to believe these conditions are “normal for us”.

good digestion

1. The Prevalence of Digestive Issues

A 2013 study revealed that 74% of all participants had experienced digestive discomfort for six months or more, yet only 37% sought help from their doctor. Additionally, 56% of those who experienced discomfort didn’t seek medical help because they didn’t believe their symptoms required medical attention. 

Ignoring the Signs

Ignoring digestive issues is a dangerous approach to take. Sometimes digestive distress is symptomatic of a deeper medical problem that requires medical attention. You must talk to your doctor if you experience ongoing or severe digestive symptoms to understand what is happening and ensure it’s nothing serious.

What if it’s Nothing Serious?

The good news is that if a diagnosed digestive disease is not the reason for your symptoms, it’s often possible to get your digestion back on track by making a few targeted diet and lifestyle tweaks.

2. Good Digestion: It All Starts With Chewing Your Food

When your digestive system is acting up, the first step should always be returning to the basics. Simple but effective, chewing your food correctly supports the digestive process and makes nutrient absorption easier for your body.

That is because chewing starts the digestive process. Mechanically, it breaks food into smaller pieces to increase its surface area so your digestive enzymes can work more effectively. Chemically, chewing also triggers the production of saliva, which contains the first enzyme in a cascade of different enzymes, each triggering the next to achieve complete digestion and absorption of nutrients from your food.  

We are eating too quickly, distracted or on the go, which is why we don’t chew our food well enough. It is more important than many realize to set aside ample time to enjoy your meals. If this is new for you, try scheduling meal times like any other priority to help fortify the habit initially. 

3. Digestive Health Tests Can Uncover Imbalances

Improving digestion is where Functional Medicine excels. We can run laboratory tests to see what is going on, even if your regular checkup did not give you a diagnosis of digestive disease. We have a complete toolbox of strategies to evaluate your digestion and uncover issues that may be at the root of your symptoms, including:

  • Stool testing to check your unique microbiome of bacteria and yeasts
  • Testing for markers of inflammation
  • Checking pancreatic enzyme levels
  • Checking for food intolerances and immune markers, as well as celiac antibodies
  • Testing for nutritional deficiencies, diabetes indicators, liver function, stress hormones and more.

4 Steps to Supporting Good Digestion

Eat a Digestion-Focused Diet

What you eat matters. Nutrient-dense, fibre-rich foods filled with enzymes help your meals move through your digestive system. We are spoiled for choice and have a variety of vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruit available to us year-round.

good food for good digestion 

More Fiber

High Fibre foods absorb water and other fluids to form a gel-like substance that feeds the good bacteria in your digestive system and soothes the gut wall. This helps provide bulk, which eases the passing of waste through your system.

Fewer Irritants

Reducing sugar and caffeine also aids digestion by reducing irritation often caused by gas and unfriendly bacteria. These bacteria cause gas, and cramping, feed off sugar and multiply. Stevia is an excellent alternative to sugar. Also, consider Rooibos tea to give you a bit of energy midday rather than that extra cup of coffee, as caffeine can irritate the digestive tract.

Probiotic Foods

Eating probiotic-rich, fermented foods like unsweetened probiotic yogurt, kimchi, kefir, miso, and sauerkraut also helps. Probiotics battle harmful bacteria in your digestive system and lower the ph levels in the colon, which supports your gut lining and aids in absorbing nutrients. 

Healthy Fats

Lastly, fats encourage gallbladder function and thus support the absorption of minerals from your food. Healthy options, including avocados, nuts, seeds and their oils, and fatty fish, are all great ways to support your digestive cascade while nourishing your body.

Drink Plenty of Water

Dehydration and constipation go hand in hand. Water is needed to produce digestive enzymes, it helps move nutrients from your food into your cells, it supports your fibre intake by keeping soluble fibre hydrated and puffy so it can do its job of “sweeping” the digestive tract, and it is a crucial part of muscle movement – remember that your gut is a long tube made up of muscles that need to contract in a co-ordinated wave-like motion. 

Reduce Stress at Mealtimes

In “fight or flight” mode, the body redirects water from your digestive system to serve the immediate survival need. High stress over time causes constipation and a host of digestive symptoms. Keeping stress low is particularly important during mealtimes as the body needs to be in a state of calm for digestion to occur at all. 

Slow down and make a conscious effort to sit down at a table to eat your meal. Turn off screens, take slow, deep breaths and pay attention to the pleasure of good food and company if you’re lucky. This will help put your body into “rest and digest” mode and enable the body to do what it needs to do next in the digestive cascade.

Make Sure to Move

Digestive health pioneer Dr Bernard Jensen famously said, “After your meal, sit a while, then walk a mile”. Research has shown us that exercise can improve the rate at which you digest food. Gravity and movement stimulate peristalsis by helping to trigger various “fullness” receptors in your colon, which triggers healthy peristalsis to push your digested food through the digestive tract regularly. Exercise is also a great stress reducer, which may explain how hearty your appetite for a healthy meal can be post-workout.

5. Helping Out Your Good Digestion with Supplements

Digestive Enzymes

For many of us these days, eating well, chewing well and relaxing is not quite enough to bring balance back. If meals still have you feeling overly full, your enzymes may need some support. Your healthcare practitioner can help you to find the right enzyme supplement for your symptoms. Alternatively, digestive enzymes can be found in papaya and pineapple, and their mild support may be enough.

enzymes for digestion

Probiotics

The good bacteria in your digestive tract support gut health by breaking down specific carbohydrates, soothing the gut wall and producing hormones such as serotonin, the “feel-good hormone”. Maintaining that microbiome is essential for avoiding digestive problems like gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea – and for mental health.

A good quality probiotic supplement can help replenish and balance your gut bacteria. Research suggests they can help support a healthy gut and good digestion even with existing digestive problems. However, get a recommendation from your healthcare practitioner, as not all probiotic supplements are created equal.

References

AbbVie, (Nov. 6, 2013.) New Survey Reveals More than Half Americans are Living with Gastrointestinal Symptoms and Not Seeking Care from a Doctor. 

Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH Jr, Ferreri S, Knudtson M, Koraym A, Waters V, Williams CL. Health benefits of dietary fibre. Nutr Rev. 2009 Apr;67(4):188-205. DOI: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x. PMID: 19335713.

Boekema PJ, Samsom M, van Berge Henegouwen GP, Smout AJ. Coffee and gastrointestinal function: facts and fiction. A review. Scand J Gastroenterol Suppl. 1999;230:35-9. doi: 10.1080/003655299750025525. PMID: 10499460.

 Everhart JE, editor. The burden of digestive diseases in the United States. US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 2008; NIH Publication No. 09-6443.

 Iorgulescu G. Saliva between normal and pathological. Important factors in determining systemic and oral health. J Med Life. 2009 Jul-Sep;2(3):303-7. PMID: 20112475; PMCID: PMC5052503.

McFarland LV. Use of probiotics to correct dysbiosis of normal microbiota following disease or disruptive events: a systematic review. BMJ Open. 2014 Aug 25;4(8):e005047. DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005047. PMID: 25157183; PMCID: PMC4156804.

Oettlé GJ. Effect of moderate exercise on bowel habit. Gut. 1991 Aug;32(8):941-4. DOI: 10.1136/gut.32.8.941. PMID: 1885077; PMCID: PMC1378967.

Patricia JJ, Dhamoon AS. Physiology, Digestion. [Updated 2021 Sep 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544242/

 Schloetter, M., Mietus-Synder, M. et al. Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. Dr Bernard Jensen. Dr Jensen’s Guide to Better Bowel Care: A Complete Program for Tissue Cleansing through Bowel Management. Avery; 1190th ed. edition (Sept. 1 1998)

Dr. Matt le Roux is a man of many talents: chiropractor, sports scientist and functional medicine practitioner. His science-based approach motivates him to explore the synergy between health and performance that changes the way you move, live, train, think, and eat.

Dr Matt le Roux

Chiropractor, Functional medicine practitioner

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